Chapter Two - The Sixth Beacon

Chapter Two - The Sixth Beacon

A Chapter by Anne Behne

A teenage girl coming to terms with her mother's mental illness discovers there may be more sinister reasons behind her mother's condition.


“MUUUUM!” Sam screamed as she rushed towards her mother’s body, extending her shaking hand to clumsily feel for a pulse. She could not quell her panic but she knew what she had to do.  She had been drilled in this and she forced herself to stay calm. Sam wiped the tears from her eyes and tried to concentrate. Yes, a pulse. Very faint and fast but it was definitely there. Sam ran for the phone, not wanting to leave her mother but knowing this is what she must do. It seemed to take forever to get to the kitchen but finally she had the handset and shakily punched in triple zero. While giving the details to the operator she scanned the kitchen for anything to help stem the flow of blood from her mother’s wounds. She grabbed the kitchen tea towels hanging over the oven and ran back to her mother.  She wrapped the wounds as best she could and again felt her mother’s neck for a pulse. Still there thank God. Sam could hear the sirens in the distance. Hurry, hurry, hurry, please don’t die Mum, please don’t die, hurry, hurry, hurry.
Heavy footsteps pounded up the wooden stairs, shaking the old house.
“WE’RE IN HERE” Sam shouting and sobbing at the same time.
Two large paramedics filled the small doorway. “Hi Sam” They moved quickly to Sam’s mother and knelt down at her side, immediately setting to work looking for a vein and inserting a cannula.
“Mrs Perrin. Can you hear me? KATH. KATH.”
“No response mate.” As the paramedic turned to his offsider.
“Sam, do you know how many she took?”  The paramedic picked up the small pink bottle and read the label.
 Sam shook her head in response.
“BP’s ninety on forty. Pulse 160. Resps shallow. KATH, KATH, CAN YOU HEAR ME?”
Sam watched as the paramedics swung into action both working together in a way that only people who’ve worked together for a long time can do, silently, quickly, each having their own role to play and instinctively knowing what the other needs.
“Bit better. 90 on 50”
“Let’s get some fluids in.”
While one attended to the IV the other began to remove the tea towels covering Kath’s wrists. These were now almost completely covered with semi congealed blood, mixing with the pattern of the material to form a garish mosaic of colour. Slowly he began to remove the make shift dressings which had started to stick to the wrist wounds. However with each tug at the material a fresh burst of bright red blood would begin to ooze from the site.
“Better leave it.”
The paramedic reached for some dressings inside his kit and began to wrap these around Kath’s arms.
“Sam, can you grab your Mum’s stuff and call your Dad. Ask him to meet us at the hospital. OK? There’s a good girl. Come on. I think she’ll be OK.”
The relief thumped through her body like a tidal wave. Without the adrenalin coursing through her veins she felt her body slacken and fold over. She knew from previous experience that it was not over yet and she quickly moved around the room gathering various items she knew her mother would want.
The paramedics lifted her mother’s body onto the trolley and strapped her in, hoisting the trolley up to hip height. They continued working to secure the monitors all the while checking her mother’ s vital signs. As the machines let off their reassuring, mismatched beeps Sam followed the paramedics as they struggled with the trolley down the steep front wooden steps of the house. As is usual in a regional town where nothing ever happens and it’s people are generally starved of some excitement in their lives,  the neighbours were out in full force, gathering together in clusters on the footpath and in front yards. After hearing the siren and in anticipation of some kind of immediacy in their day they were there to witness firsthand what will be discussed in elaborate and embellished detail over dinner, across the fence, at the school pick up and on Saturday morning at their kid’s hockey and soccer games.
Sam clambered into the ambulance and sat next to her mother’s prostate body. As the door was slammed shut behind her and the wail of the siren competed with the staccato rhythm monitoring her mother’s life, Sam called her Dad.

This was not the first time her mother had done this.

The first time was just after Sam had gone back to school after the long Christmas holidays. She was excited to be back with her friends and the promise of new subjects to look forward to now she was in year 10. She remembers it was during a history lesson.  It was a typical scorching, clammy February day and the ceiling fans did little to relieve the suffocating heat emanating from the corrugated iron of the prefab building they were in. Sam could feel the sweat gathering under her thighs and felt her skin sticking to the hard plastic chair. She could smell an approaching storm. But the oppressive conditions did nothing to quell her enthusiasm in class. This was her favourite subject and Mrs Boyle her favourite teacher so she was naturally annoyed when the admin assistant arrived at the classroom door interrupting the teacher mid sentence.   With a wave of her hand and in an obvious state of distress she waited for the teacher to approach her. Their heads bowed together in earnest whispering at the end of which they simultaneously looked up directly at Sam.
Their expressions said it all and in a heartbeat Sam was off her chair and running towards them.
“What’s happened?” Sam almost fell into the teacher’s arms.
“There’s been an accident Sam. Your Mum, she’s in the hospital. Your Dad’s waiting at the office.”
Mrs Boyle placed her hands on Sam’s shoulders as she guided her through the classroom door. “Janine, can you look after the class for me?”   
Sam allowed herself to be led feeling a sense of utter despair and unreality. Deep down she had always half expected something like this to happen to her Dad, not her Mum. Mum was at home and safe. Her Dad on the other hand was a local police officer and had been for as long as she could remember. When her Dad was on night duty Sam was always waiting for that knock on the door in the middle of the night heralding news of him being shot or somehow injured in a domestic  or by a drunk in a late night brawl.
But no, there he was sitting slumped in the parent’s waiting area, elbows on his knees restlessly turning his cap between both hands. He looked up as Sam approached and rose slowly from the chair.
“Sammy girl” His eyes filled with tears as he hugged her tightly. Her Dad, who never cried or showed much affection. His large utility belt dug into her chest making it awkward for them to embrace.
“She’s gunna be OK. She’s gunna be OK” Sam’s Dad kept repeating over and over as if to convince himself.


And now it’s happened again. .......

There was an eerie silence as the ambulance pulled in to the emergency bay and the siren was abruptly cut off.  The hospital building loomed large and ominous. Wooden verandas with arching fretwork surrounded the original building.  As the town grew in prosperity so did the size and the ugliness of the additional buildings, the latest add- on being a formidable square red brick block from the sixties, architecture more in keeping with a prison rather than a place of healing.  The palm trees wilted on the front spacious lawn as the afternoon heat intensified. Sam could smell the pungent chemical like fumes coming off the bitumen as it started to soften and stick to her shoes as they made their way in. Her Dad was already there.
“Hi Nick, Sam.  Everyone in the town knew Sam’s Dad. The nurse on duty recognised him immediately from the numerous times he would be bringing in some handcuffed drunk or druggie who was playing up in the watch house and threatening to ”top themselves”. Friday and Saturday nights were the worst but a full moon seemed to keep the police and hospital staff busy too.
“Oh, oh, I wonder what loonies are out tonight.”  Sam’s Dad would always make a joke about it to his wife if he noticed the moonlight streaming through the bedroom window as he was getting ready for night shift.  But his family could tell that on those nights there was that added element of hyper vigilance in the way he took extra care in checking that his hand cuffs, capsicum spray, batten and gun were in perfect working order and easily and quickly accessible in his utility belt.
As the paramedics wheeled the trolley into the emergency department, a nurse took Sam and her Dad aside and ushered them in through a door leading to what appeared to be a small waiting room.
“We’ll just give the guys a few minutes to settle her in OK?”  Placed up against the walls were a number of old unwelcoming wooden chairs . The room was stark, the single fluorescent light bulb assisting to create a sterile sombreness. The few magazines that lay on the chipped and stained coffee table were missing their front covers and years old. The public break-up between Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt, stared up at Sam.  A clock was the only adornment on the walls, time being the only tangible reality in this place, an enemy and a saviour.  It was a room that emanated ‘bad news’ and explained why so many family members were smoking outside the front entrance. No one wanted to spend time in this room for very long.
Sam and her Dad sat quietly. Every now and then Sam would breathe in an audible quick double breath, her body’s reaction to the afternoon’s trauma.  At these sounds her Dad would place his large hand on her knee and squeeze gently.
The door opened tentatively and the nurse reappeared.
“They’re just about done. You can come on through”.
The emergency department was relatively quiet today. As usual most of the beds were taken up with the very old and the very young. There was the usual sprinkling of school kids in various stages of limb immobilisation, a weary Mum in tow, dragged from work and worrying if she’ll still have a job to go to tomorrow. The smaller kids are crying, the older ones trying to put on a brave face but not quite pulling it off. There was some commotion going on in one of the far cubicles. A harried nurse pushed her way through the closed curtains. Through the opening Sam could see an old man pulling at his IV and oxygen tubing and trying to get out of bed.
“Now, now Gordon, I told you not to do that.” The nurse bustled her way in passing the Indian doctor standing by the patient’s bedside reading the chart.
“Give him five of valium and see if that calms him a bit while we wait for the bloods to come back.
Sam and her Dad followed the nurse through to one of the corner private cubicles. The nurse pulled back the curtain. Her mother was now lying in a hospital bed. The small area was filled to capacity with people attending to different parts of her mother’s body while the paramedics continued their detailed handover.  There was equipment everywhere, in various shapes and sizes. A sense of calm efficiency pervaded the air.
“ECG  looks OK, rate’s a bit slow” The nurse pulled a thin strip of paper from the machine and handed it to the doctor.
“Kath. Kath. Can you hear me? Wake up Kath. Kath, can you hear me?” The repetition continued as they worked, the staff taking it in turns to try to rouse her.
Sam could feel her Dad’s distress as she heard him gasp. Faltering, he took a step forward.
“She’s coming round.” There was a subtle movement of Kath’s eyelids. It seemed as though she was struggling to gain consciousness as her eyelids opened then rapidly closed again. “Kath? Kath?” Nick fell to his knees at the side of the bed.
“Nick.” Kath’s voice was soft and croaky. She placed her hand on the top of her husband’s head as he knelt beside the bed. On top of the bed covers lay what appeared to be a small crumpled photograph Kath must have been clutching in her hand. Sam moved closer. The photograph was yellow with age. It was a picture of a young woman holding a small child in front of some sort of lighthouse. It was obviously windy as the young woman’s hair was coming loose from the scarf she was wearing. The sea in the background was an inky black with formidable grey clouds stretching along the horizon as though a storm was brewing. The woman was obviously happy. A shaft of sunlight bathed mother and child in a golden hew. It was as though the photographer had waited for the perfect moment to capture the image.

The monitors increased their frenzied pace sounding like an orchestra coming to the climax of a long and difficult piece. And then became silent. Milliseconds seemed to stretch into eternity as those in the cubicle stared in disbelief and almost wonder at the myriad of straight glowing green lines etched on display panels like a halo around Kath’s head. The sound of a communal intake of breath could be heard as a chorus of alarms let out their perilous foreboding.


End of Chapter Two


© 2014 Anne Behne

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Added on February 11, 2014
Last Updated on February 11, 2014
Tags: Teen and Young Adult, Australian, contemporary


Anne Behne
Anne Behne

Maryborough, Fraser Coast, Australia